Thorne and Hatfield Moors Peat Canals

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Thorne and Hatfield Moors Peat Canals
Boating Dike from Jaques Bank - - 2338146.jpg
Boating Dike near Jaques Bank, Dirtness. Its name derives from its use as a canal prior to the 1830s.
Statusparts now act as drains
Date of actPrivately built
Date of first use1630s and 1890s
Date closed1830s and 1922
Start pointThorne Moors

Thorne and Hatfield Moors Peat Canals were a series of canals in South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, England, which were used to carry cut peat from Thorne and Hatfield Moors to points where it could be processed or exported. There were two phases to the canals, the first of which lasted from the 1630s until the 1830s, when coal imported on the Stainforth and Keadby Canal reduced the demand for peat as a fuel. The second started in the 1890s, when peat found a new use as bedding for working horses, and lasted until 1922, when Moorends Mill which processed the peat was destroyed by fire.

South Yorkshire County of England

South Yorkshire is a metropolitan county in England. It is the southernmost county in the Yorkshire and the Humber region and had a population of 1.34 million in 2011. It has an area of 1,552 square kilometres (599 sq mi) and consists of four metropolitan boroughs, Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield. South Yorkshire was created on 1 April 1974 as a result of the Local Government Act 1972. Its largest settlement is Sheffield.

Lincolnshire County of England

Lincolnshire is a county in eastern England, with a long coastline on the North Sea to the east. It borders Norfolk to the south east, Cambridgeshire to the south, Rutland to the south west, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire to the west, South Yorkshire to the north west, and the East Riding of Yorkshire to the north. It also borders Northamptonshire in the south for just 20 yards (19 m), England's shortest county boundary. The county town is the city of Lincoln, where the county council has its headquarters.

Thorne and Hatfield Moors Lowland raised peat bog in the UK

Thorne and Hatfield Moors form the largest area of lowland raised peat bog in the United Kingdom. They are situated in South Yorkshire, to the north-east and east of Doncaster near the town of Thorne, and are part of Hatfield Chase. They had been used for small-scale extraction of peat for fuel from medieval times, and probably much earlier, but commercial extraction of the peat for animal bedding began in the 1880s. The peat was cut on the moors and, once it had dried, transported to several works on 3 ft narrow gauge tramways, always called trams locally. The wagons were pulled by horses to works at Creyke's Siding, Moorends, Medge Hall, Swinefleet and Hatfield. There was also a network of canals supplying the Moorends Works.



The canals were located in Hatfield Chase, an area of low-lying land which was regularly waterlogged prior to the 1630s. In 1626, the Dutch drainage engineer Cornelius Vermuyden was appointed by King Charles I to reclaim the Chase, and set about re-routing the River Don, so that it ran along the western edge of the Chase, and the River Idle, which he diverted along its southern edge. The River Torne was then left with no outlet, and a new channel was cut for it, which crossed the Chase to join the River Trent [1] There were some problems with the outlet of the Don and the new channel for the Torne, and considerable local dissent, which resulted in civil unrest and deliberate re-flooding of the land, which was not finally resolved until 1719. [2] Gradually, much of the Chase became suitable for agriculture. The drainage did not affect the two great raised mires or peat bogs, known as Thorne and Hatfield Moors.

Hatfield Chase

Hatfield Chase is a low-lying area in South Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire, England, which was often flooded. It was a royal hunting ground until Charles I appointed the Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden to drain it in 1626. The work involved the re-routing of the Rivers Don, Idle and Torne, and the construction of drainage channels. It was not wholly successful, but changed the whole nature of a wide swathe of land including the Isle of Axholme and caused legal disputes for the rest of the century. The civil engineer John Smeaton looked at the problem of wintertime flooding in the 1760s, and some remedial work was carried out.

Cornelius Vermuyden Dutch engineer

Sir Cornelius Vermuyden was a Dutch engineer who introduced Dutch land reclamation methods to England. Commissioned by the Crown to drain Hatfield Chase in the Isle of Axholme, Lincolnshire, Vermuyden was knighted in 1629 for his work and became an English citizen in 1633. In the 1650s, he directed major projects to drain The Fens of East Anglia, introducing the innovation of constructing washes, to allow periodic flooding of the area by excess waters.

Charles I of England 17th-century monarch of kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland

Charles I was the monarch over the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution.

Peat from the moors was used as a domestic fuel, but was also exported further afield. Precise dates for the first peat canals are uncertain, but soon after the construction of the diverted River Don, a canal was cut, which crossed the Chase to reach the Trent. A plan of the area, dated 1752, shows The Cutt by Thorne into Trent, and significantly, parts of it are still called Boating Dike on modern Ordnance Survey maps. A second canal on the western side of the moors, also called Boating Dike, ran past Thorne to join the River Don, and included a pound lock part way along it. Some 30 or 40 boats were using the canal in the 1790s, although the turves were transferred to larger vessels for onward passage along the Don. The canals were shown of a map of Yorkshire, produced by the cartographer Thomas Jefferys between 1767 and 1770. [3]

Peat Accumulation of partially decayed vegetation

Peat, also known as turf, is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter. It is unique to natural areas called peatlands, bogs, mires, moors, or muskegs. The peatland ecosystem is the most efficient carbon sink on the planet, because peatland plants capture CO2 naturally released from the peat, maintaining an equilibrium. In natural peatlands, the "annual rate of biomass production is greater than the rate of decomposition", but it takes "thousands of years for peatlands to develop the deposits of 1.5 to 2.3 m [4.9 to 7.5 ft], which is the average depth of the boreal [northern] peatlands". Sphagnum moss, also called peat moss, is one of the most common components in peat, although many other plants can contribute. The biological features of Sphagnum mosses act to create a habitat aiding peat formation, a phenomenon termed 'habitat manipulation'. Soils consisting primarily of peat are known as histosols. Peat forms in wetland conditions, where flooding or stagnant water obstructs the flow of oxygen from the atmosphere, slowing the rate of decomposition.

Thomas Jefferys English cartographer

Thomas Jefferys, "Geographer to King George III", was an English cartographer who was the leading map supplier of his day. He engraved and printed maps for government and other official bodies and produced a wide range of commercial maps and atlases, especially of North America.

The hydrology of the region was altered in 1802 with the opening of the Stainforth and Keadby Canal, which cut across Hatfield Chase in an east-west direction, with Thorne Moors to the north and Hatfield Moors to the south. [4] Much of the Thorne boating dike was destroyed, and new drains were cut parallel to the canal. A new 2-mile (3.2 km) navigable drain was sanctioned by the Hatfield, Thorne and Fishlake Enclosure Commissioners, which ran along the southern section of Thorne Moors. There were then some 6 miles (9.7 km) of navigable drains, on which clinker-built boats operated. They were 28 by 6 feet (8.5 by 1.8 m), and were symmetrical in shape, allowing them to be worked in either direction without having to turn them. [5] Coal brought into the region by the Stainforth and Keadby Canal led to a fall in the demand for peat as a fuel. The number of boats operating on the peat canals had declined to 8 or 9 by the 1820s, and such traffic ceased altogether around 1830. Peat for export from the moors was taken to the Stainforth and Keadby Canal by cart. [6]

Stainforth and Keadby Canal canal in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, United Kingdom

The Stainforth and Keadby Canal is a navigable canal in South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, England. It connects the River Don Navigation at Bramwith to the River Trent at Keadby, by way of Stainforth, Thorne and Ealand, near Crowle. It opened in 1802, passed into the control of the River Don Navigation in 1849, and within a year was controlled by the first of several railway companies. It became part of the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation, an attempt to remove several canals from railway control, in 1895. There were plans to upgrade it to take larger barges and to improve the port facilities at Keadby, but the completion of the New Junction Canal in 1905 made this unnecessary, as Goole could easily be reached and was already a thriving port.

Clinker (boat building) method of boat building

Clinker built is a method of boat building where the edges of hull planks overlap each other. Where necessary in larger craft shorter planks can be joined end to end into a longer strake or hull plank. The technique developed in northern Europe and was successfully used by the Anglo-Saxons, Frisians, Scandinavians, and typical for the Hanseatic cog. A contrasting method, where plank edges are butted smoothly seam to seam, is known as carvel construction.

Second phase

The Peat Canals circa 1907, which supplied peat to Moorends Works. The access land boundary is recent. Blackwater Dike, Mill Drain and Cottage Dike still exist and are named on the 2006 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey map. Thorne Canals map.jpg
The Peat Canals circa 1907, which supplied peat to Moorends Works. The access land boundary is recent. Blackwater Dike, Mill Drain and Cottage Dike still exist and are named on the 2006 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey map.

Following the demise of the canals, the emphasis was on improving the moors for agriculture by warping, a process which involved spreading silt over the peat to produce a soil which could sustain agriculture. The Thorne Moor (Waste) Improvement Act was passed in 1848, which created the Thorne Moor Improvement Company, who were responsible for draining, warping or otherwise improving Thorne Waste, the southern section of the moors. The plans were tied into those for a railway link between Gainsborough, Thorne and Doncaster, authorised in the same year, but the Great Northern Railway Company failed to build the line, and little improvement was achieved. [7]

Warping, was the former practice of letting turbid river water flood onto agricultural land, so that its suspended sediment could form a layer, before letting the water drain away. In this way poor soils were covered with fertile fine silt, and their rentable value was increased.

Great Northern Railway (Great Britain) British pre-grouping railway company

The Great Northern Railway (GNR) was a British railway company incorporated in 1846 with the object of building a line from London to York. It quickly saw that seizing control of territory was key to development, and it acquired, or took leases of, many local railways, whether actually built or not. In doing so it overextended itself financially.

Two other schemes deserve mention. The first was for Swinefleet Warping Drain, to the east of the moors, the first part of which opened in 1821. It had been promoted by Ralph Creyke and T.H.S. Sotheron, who had obtained an Act of Parliament, and they succeeded in using the silt-rich water to flood the land and gradually improve it over the next forty years. Makin Durham built the Durham Warping Drain on the western edge of the moors, but although it opened in 1856, very little reclamation took place. He died in 1882, just as ideas for using the peat, rather than improving it for agriculture, were developing. The change occurred because there was an agricultural depression, and a need for an alternative to straw bedding for the large number of working horses in the country. [8]

An act of parliament, also called primary legislation, are statutes passed by a parliament (legislature). Act of the Oireachtas is an equivalent term used in the Republic of Ireland where the legislature is commonly known by its Irish name, Oireachtas. The United States Act of Congress is based on it.

Sections of both Hatfield Moors and Thorne Moors were leased to companies for peat cutting. The Hatfield Chase Moss Litter Company began cutting on Hatfield Moors in 1888. The Dutch Griendtsveen Moss Litter Company was formed in 1893 and started to acquire various peat businesses. They took over the works at Moorends, to the north of Thorne, and imported workers from the Netherlands. They brought their own tools and methods of working with them, and by 1899, there was a colony of around 300 Dutch people at Moorends, of which 120 were men working on the moors. They rebuilt the Moorends mill, and built around 14 miles (23 km) of canals to carry the peat from the moors to the mill. Ledgers in the offices were kept in Dutch and English, and there was some tension with the local population, who feared that such a large influx of foreigners might result in them losing their own jobs. [9]

The boats used on the system were about 40 feet (12 m) long, with a flat bottom and, like the earlier wooden boats, were pointed at both ends, so that they did not have to be turned. They were made of iron in the Netherlands, and then transported to Thorne. There were twelve boats on the system, which were manhandled on the side arms, where the peat was cut, and pulled by two horses on the longer sections back to the mill. Towpaths beside the canals were made from limestone. [10] From the cutting fields, the main canal headed north-west, and then turned to the west to reach Moorends Works. It crossed Durham's Warping Drain on an iron aqueduct, which required large amounts of brickwork to support it. It was completed at great cost in 1895, and also carried the 3 ft (914 mm) gauge tramway which served the northern part of the moors. [11]

In 1896, the British Peat Moss Litter company was formed by the amalgamation of the Hatfield Chase Peat Moss Litter Company and most of the companies working on Thorne Moors. They paid £58,000 for Griendtsveen's Moorends Works. [12] The mill, which had been used for the production of paraffin since the late 1860s until it rebuilding in the 1880s, [13] was damaged by a fire in 1898. The wooden baling presses were destroyed, but were replaced with steel presses, which were powered by a 40-horsepower (30 kW) stationary steam engine which burned peat as its fuel. [14] Besides the canals and the aqueduct, the 1906 Ordnance Survey maps show two swing bridges, one on the northern section just beyond the junction where the line for the southern section turned off, and another where that line crossed the Cottage Dike. There was also a wind pump between the Cottage Dike and the southern canals, towards the eastern end of the canals. Marked towpaths ran along the northern edge of both sections of the canals and on the north-easterly side of the canal to the aqueduct and Mooorends Mill. [15]

There were intermittent problems with water supply for the canals, which also suffered from silting, and there were times when the only supply of peat for processing to the mill was from the tramways. They remained in use until 1922, when another fire destroyed the main mill building. The boats were cut up for scrap, and with no use, the canals reverted to bog. The works chimney was demolished in 1930, but the remaining buildings became a maintenance workshop. The tramway wagons were repaired there until 1956, after which the site was demolished. [14]

See also


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  1. Van de Noort 2001 , p. 135
  2. Water Resources – Manuscripts & Special Collections. "Hatfield Chase Corporation, 1538–1973". The University of Nottingham. Retrieved 29 April 2012.
  3. Hadfield 1972 , pp. 81–82
  4. Hadfield 1973 , p. 292
  5. Hadfield 1972 , p. 266
  6. Booth 1998 , p. 7
  7. Booth 1998 , pp. 7–8
  8. Booth 1998 , p. 8
  9. Booth 1998 , pp. 8–9
  10. Booth 1998 , p. 70
  11. Booth 1998 , p. 68
  12. Booth 1998 , p. 9
  13. Booth 1998 , p. 66
  14. 1 2 Booth 1998 , pp. 70–71
  15. Ordnance Survey, 1:2500 map, 1906